This Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, Lorenz Larkin looks to win the Bellator title in his promotional debut. Fighting the champion Douglas Lima, Larkin finally arrives in the Scott Coker led promotion and after ten months out of the cage, the pressure is on. In a title fight on Bellator’s biggest ever fight card, Larkin’s decision to sign with the organization could look very different on Sunday morning, for better or worse. However, whilst it’s easy to get caught up in this very moment, the truth is that what it represents means much more. Larkin is already having a spotlight shined on him and believe it or not, that hasn’t always been the case.
In hindsight, moving to Welterweight in January 2015 definitely changed Larkin’s career. After three straight very disappointing losses, Larkin’s UFC career was almost certainly on the line as he made his divisional debut. ‘The Monsoon’ didn't let that pressure affect him though and he quickly stopped John ‘Doomsday’ Howard, looking sharper and faster than ever in the process. That win reinvigorated Larkin’s career, as did Robbie Lawler’s position as the division’s champion, a man Larkin had previously beaten at Middleweight in Strikeforce. The American’s accelerated momentum would continue too, with Larkin next finishing Santiago Ponzinibbio in an exciting back and forth affair.
However, Larkin’s win streak would come to a quick end as he dropped a close split decision to Albert Tumenov. Larkin certainly had his moments in the fight, especially with low-kicks and many even felt that he’d done enough to earn the win but Tumenov’s boxing secured him the nod from two of the three judges. Though he’d come out the loser against Tumenov, Larkin’s stock had gone mostly undamaged and he was next booked to fight then underrated contender Jorge Masvidal. At the time Masvidal had recently moved up to Welterweight and was 1-1, his loss coming in razor close fashion against former Lightweight champion Benson Henderson.
Unsurprisingly, Larkin and Masvidal both had their moments over the fifteen minutes but it was ‘The Monsoon’ that eventually came out the victor via split decision. Back then it was a great win for Larkin but now almost eighteen months later and its credibility has only escalated. Since losing to Larkin Masvidal has gone 3-1, including a spectacular stoppage win over Donald Cerrone and with his sole loss coming via split decision to surging top contender Demian Maia. As things stand Masvidal is a clear top 5 fighter in the UFC Welterweight division and that previous result only furthers Larkin’s legitimacy as an elite 170lb fighter.
Larkin’s next bout would prove to be a pivotal one in his career. It was the final fight of his UFC contract and the opponent would be durable and consistent top 10 contender Neil Magny. Taking place on the blockbuster UFC 202 event, Larkin and Magny were only positioned as the ‘Fight Pass Headliner,’ even though it was clash of two talented fighters in good form. Whilst I appreciate that there was an attempt being made to make this spot on the card an important one, the reality is that the audience is very much limited and by the time a show ends, the fight is very often forgotten. There’s arguably no better example of that problem than Larkin and Magny’s fight here.
To the surprise of many, the unranked Larkin dominated the action, using a variety of kicks to badly hurt and bewilder Magny. Larkin’s striking had always impressed but it looked truly phenomenal here and after just over four minutes, the fight mercifully came to an end. Easily stopping a historically tough opponent, Larkin had just had a breakout performance and win. The only problem was hardly anyone had seen it and those that had almost certainly forgot about it after Nate Diaz and Conor McGregor’s classic rematch that took place about five hours later. With Larkin’s UFC contract now expired, it was time for ‘The Monsoon’ to consider his options.
Even though he was an exciting fighter that seemingly had all the tools to be a top UFC Welterweight, the promootion didn't seem to value Larkin as much as some expected. As has been the case with many other recent Bellator signees, it feels as though Larkin was seen by the UFC as just another cog on the wheel and in March this year, he announced that he’d signed with Bellator. This isn’t Larkin’s first time fighting in a Scott Coker led promotion though, he had previously experienced a successful run in Strikeforce and generally seems a good fit for the very much entertainment based promotion.
The fact that Larkin’s debut comes at MSG in a title fight says a lot about how highly the company views him and that suggests that ‘The Monsoon’ made a smart move. Douglas Lima is a tough fight for any 170lb fighter in the world and Larkin certainly has his work cut out for him in his promotional debut. A win would obviously be tremendous and position Larkin for an exciting title clash with Rory MacDonald but even with a loss, the future looks bright for the exciting striker. Regardless of result, Larkin is an excellent acquisition for the promotion and hopefully this is the start of a new trend in which finally, the spotlight truly shines on him.
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